CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

TAMPA: on Time & Language

This begins a new series here at the CALLE site.  TAMPA is meant to provide a basic overview of the relationship of Time and Language — how languages express time and how time expression manifests itself in the various structures and forms of language.  It is a precursor to an upcoming textbook covering the same information with particular focus on applying this understanding to the language education experience.  Information on that project will appear soon at languageandtime.wordpress.com when it becomes available.

TAMPA is an acronym referring to the five attributes of language used for expression of time and the relationship of time to linguistic structures in all languages.  These terms tense, aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart are used throughout linguistic and language education texts, yet there exists still quite a bit of confusion regarding their meanings. Tense, Aspect, and Aktionsart are the three primary temporal attributes of language. That is, they are the concepts in linguistics that deal specifically with time. The fourth term, perfection is more secondary to the expression of time as it is purely the method of presenting the verb as completed (finished) or not.  The fifth, mood, is again not specifically a temporal element, but is a key element in time expressions in most languages including English.  What’s interesting about these five is that they are among the most simple, easy to understand concepts in the study of languages, yet they are also among the most misunderstood of all linguistic concepts.

Confusion

There’s a reason so much confusion exists regarding these topics. More than anything, that reason is terminology. The temporal nature of language has not been the most actively studied area of languages and this is probably because it’s been only in the last hundred years or so that linguists have truly come to understand how such information is expressed in most languages and how different languages relate to time and its expression within their forms. The study of the relation of time and languages began in earnest only around the turn of the 20th century. It was at this time that linguists in Russia and Germany first realized that what works in analyzing one language does not necessarily work in analyzing another. Prior to this time, grammars and analysis of languages had been based on the model established by Greek and Roman philosophers studying Greek and Latin. Greek (ancient Greek) was the model used for most study. The Greek language is, compared to most modern tongues, quite simple and straightforward, especially in regard to temporal expression. People were discussing and writing about the interworkings of the Greek language thousands of years before the idea of linguistics as a field of study even came about. They figured out much of the science of communication and basics of what we still study today (semantics, syntax, morphology, etc) at a time when much of the world hadn’t even thought of the wheel. Human beings being easily proud of our accomplishments unfortunately didn’t continue our passion for linguistic research with that ancient fervor of old. Having figured out the basics of Greek linguistics, students of language basically stopped and for the next two thousand years attempted to describe every language they encountered in terms of their comparison to Greek.

It’s Greek to Me.

Every language is of course not Greek, nor are that many of them structurally similar to that common tongue of Sparta and Troy. Today it is understood that there are many languages, that those languages can be grouped into families of related tongues, and that various types of languages have various characteristics that may not be common in other types of language. As commonsensical as this seems though, this view is a fairly new innovation. Prior to the 20th Century, most grammars, regardless of language used the Greek model. English is by far the best example of this because most of the grammars of English, both past and present, have been written with relatively little attention paid to the actual linguistics of English. Instead, they have attempted (and always failed) to shape the structures of English into a form that can mesh with seemingly equivalent forms in Latin and Greek.

To understand the fallacy of such an approach it’s best to perhaps first consider what the study of linguistics is and to compare that to the study of a language or of the study of languages as a whole. The study of a language is basically the academic pursuit of fluency in that tongue. It’s basically just learning the language for the purpose of being able to communicate with speakers of that language. The study of languages as a social science is more one of anthropological curiosity – of comparing the ways in which various peoples and cultures communicate and how they blend the aspects of their culture and character with that communication. The field of linguistics takes this study of languages to a new level, that of the study of language as a whole – the human ability to create systems of communication with various patterns and forms and of the underlying math of such systems. It’s these systems that are truly the focus of linguistics.

Every language conveys the same information. They all have subjects and objects and verbs and ways of communicating the who, what, when, where, how, and why of daily life. This is the primary similarity of all human communication. The differences are in how this information is conveyed. Some languages use extremely long words in which complex systems of prefixes and suffixes express things like tense, number, mood, person, aspect, and any other combination of information or character. Other languages use individual words for each of these attributes. Most, like English, are somewhere in the middle with a system of inflected words and structures providing the full inventory needed for expressing any combination of meaning.

It is important to understand that all languages, while appearing sometimes very different on the surface, are at their core quite similar, especially in their being tools for conveying common information and key attributes of human existence. Time is of course one of those key attributes of our lives and languages all have a means of expressing time through their grammars, syntax, and usage. The mistaken historical approach of trying to make everything fit the mold of Greek or Latin is not in the idea that the information expressed is different, but rather that all languages express that information in similar ways. They of course do not, so while time is a standard and ever present component of language, the relation of time to each language is specific and merits specific treatment and research.

TAMPA: Tense, Aspect, Mood, Perfection, & Aktionsart

In understanding languages, improving language learning efficiency, and especially in honing an approach in secondary language instruction, understanding the primary ways in which languages express time and their interaction is of the utmost importance. Regardless of any differences languages may have in the manner in which such information is expressed, the types of time information are the same – combinations of tense and aspect as regulated by aktionsart. Some languages also blend supporting moods into their systems of temporal expression. English is a prime example of such a language in that all but two future forms in the language require additional modal support. Basically, there are five linguistic components at play regarding the relationship of time and language: Tense – the contrast between temporal references on the timeline of an utterance; Aspect – the temporal nature of that utterance, usually as durational or not, as determined by structure; Mood – any additional qualification of the utterance, particularly as applied to its verb; Perfection – the quality of the temporal nature of that utterance as completed or not, as determined by structure;  and Aktionsart – the temporal nature of the inclusive verbs used in that utterance, most often defined as a combination of duration and completion.


Continue reading TAMPA: The Basics

March 12, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tense

This is the first of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Aspect, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here.

Tense is one of three primary temporal attributes of language (temporal meaning related to time).  The other two are aktionsart, which is the temporal nature of a verb, and aspect — the temporal nature of an utterance.  They are used together with perfection and mood to express time in all languages.  *Remember, an utterance is the linguistic term for any formation that has a subject, verb and/or object and expresses a complete thought.

Definition:

Tense represents the contrast between two measurements along the timeline of an utterance, with one of those measurements being the Time of Utterance TUTT (the time at which the actual utterance is made).  TUTT is always the primary point of reference for tense.  There are three additional references to which TUTT can be contrasted:  TAST — the Time of Assertion, TCOM — the Time of Completion, and TEVL — the Time of Evaluation; these are secondary references.  Which type  is used for the secondary reference is determined by aspect and type of utterance.

TAST – Time of Assertion:  This is the time at which the action of the verb takes place.  It can be a single point in time (in non-durational aspects) such as in “I had dinner at 5pm.”  Or, it can be a range of time (in durational aspects) such as “I was eating dinner from 5 till 7.”

TCOM – Time of Completion:  This is the point in time at which a verb is completed.  TCOM is used with perfected forms.  In perfected non-durational aspects it represents the time by which a verb is finished, as in “I have eaten dinner.”  In perfected durational aspects it represents either the time at which a verb is finished, or more normally, a time up to which the verb is completed (but that it may continue beyond); this function of allowing for interrupting of the verb is the more standard use of this form and allows the duration of the verb to be measured up to a given point (TCOM).  Consider “I had been eating for 2 hours by 7pm,” in which an action (eating) has a duration, of which two hours of it is completed, as of 7pm.

TEVL – Time of Evaluation:  Some utterances do not support measuring a specific action.  Instead, they express a change in state, a generalization, or perhaps an habitual truth.  These utterances express an idea that is evaluated as true or not.  The earliest point in time at which the idea expressed (called the attestation) can be evaluated as true is the TEVL.  Consider “Birds fly.”  In this utterance a generalization is made (in the present) about birds and it can be immediately evaluated (present) as true.  Likewise “I used to drink coffee everyday,” refers to an habitual action that was true in the past so that the TUTT is present (it is said now) but its TEVL is the past.

Present, Past, & Future

A common misconception is to mistakenly speak of the “three tenses”.  Actually, aside from the true present (saying something right now that is happening right now) which can be a point (that point being right now), tenses are ranges.  These ranges refer to the contrast between the primary TUTT and the secondary TAST, TCOM, or TEVL.

If the primary and secondary references occur at the same point on the timeline, an utterance is said to be in the present tense.  If the primary reference occurs after the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the left of TUTT), then that utterance is said to be in the past tense.  And, if the primary reference occurs before the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the right of TUTT), the utterance is said to be in the future tense.

The Time of Utterance is almost always the present.  The only instances in which TUTT occurs in the past or future is when dealing with reported speech, i.e. “John said “He is the murderer,” (TUTT in the past)” or “John will say “He didn’t do it.” (TUTT in the future)”.  Note in even these examples that the primary TUTT of the whole utterance is present, but the TUTT of the quoted utterance is in the past or future as reported.

It is best to refer to present tenses, past tenses, and future tenses rather than just tense because utterances can occur in the immediate present, general present, near future, distant past, etc with the differences in these subcategories within a range of tenses being the relative distance along the timeline between the two temporal references — the greater the distance between TUTT and TAST, TCOM, or TEVL, the farther in the past or future the tense.

Tense does not Equal Time

The word tense is often mistakenly used to refer to time in general or for anything related to time within language.  Tense is not time.  It is merely a contrast between temporal references as explained above.  A verb cannot have tense.  Verbs alone are just words.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, and a verb outside of an utterance cannot express tense because there is nothing to compare it to.

This is not to say that verbs don’t have temporal qualities.  They certainly do.  In fact, all verbs have a temporal nature.  This temporal nature of verbs is called Aktionsart.  Aktionsart in some verbs are very strong so that they generally occur in one aspect more than another such as statives or actions.  Utterances also have a temporal nature, and like aktionsart does for the verb itself, aspect determines the temporal nature of the utterance itself.  In English, aspect determines whether the utterance expressed duration through its structure or not.  Verbs can also be completed, this is called perfecting.  Verbs can be naturally perfected via their aktionsart (such as verbs that naturally occur in an instance such as die, or sneeze).  Utterances can also be completed through perfecting their aspects (have eaten, have been eating).

With all this talk of aspects and aktionsarten (the plural of aktionsart (it’s German)) and perfecting, it is important to remember that while these all deal with time, they are not tenses.  So, there is no such thing as the “present perfect tense” or “present progressive tense” or the “past continuous tense” or the “subjunctive tense” or “the perfect”.  An utterance can occur in the perfected durational aspect in the past (I had been eating) but ‘in the past’ is the only part of that description that deals with tense.

Continue reading Tense, Part II: Present

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Tense, Part II: Present

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here).  The following are examples of varying combinations of tense in different statements.  Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).

Present Tenses

The present tenses are those in which the two contrasting time references occur at the same time.  Technically there can only be one present tense in the strictest interpretation of the word — that is, a situation in which TUTT occurs at exactly the same time as TAST/TCOM/TEVL.  Most languages though tend to group situations in which the secondary time reference occurs very near the primary TUTT as present.  This allows for tenses such as the general present, immediate present, recent present, and such to be expressed.  In actuality these tenses are actually in the future or past (happening before [past] or after [future] the TUTT, and occurring to the left [past] and right [future] of TUTT) but the temporal distance of the secondary reference from the primary is negligible, so they are generally considered present tenses.  Outlined below are diagrams showing the five possible references in which present tenses occur (all diagrams represent true present tense rather than near present tenses discussed above):

TUTT coincides with TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John paints a picture.) are represented in this diagram.  Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT = TEVL below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”).  In utterances of this type, the time of utterance coincides with the time of assertion.  Thus, both primary and secondary reference occurs at the same time.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could also be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains present tense however, so long as TAST coincides with TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST also occurs at the same time in the past as TUTT (visually at the same spot on the timeline as TUTT), the utterance is still present tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at the same time as that future TUTT (again, visually at the same spot on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measureable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT coincides with TEVL

As with TUTT = TAST described above, a common present tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths.  These types of utterances always occur in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects.  In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurrence to observe (and thus no assertion).  Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform.  In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms).  The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions.  The diagram shows this temporal relationship in the present tense with the TUTT coinciding with the TEVL.  In other words, for generalizations and habituals, if the attestation may be evaluated as true immediately at the time of utterace, or to put it simply, if the the attestation being evaluated is known to be valid when the utterance is made, then the tense of the utterance is present.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John drinks coffee (generalization)” and “John goes to school everyday (habitual).”

TUTT during TAST

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John paints a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John works for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John is eating pizza.).  The diagram shows that for these constructions, in the present tenses, the time of utterance occurs during the time of assertion — the duration in which the verb occurs.  The smaller arrows in the diagram show that while the action may begin and end before or after the time of utterance, that TUTT falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration.

TCOM coincides with TUTT

It should be noted in this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms (TUTT = TAST and TUTT = TEVL) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘the present perfect’ or ‘present perfect simple’.   These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of the time of utterance.  In other words, the verb is finished as of now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  For this reason, specific time phrases may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  Examples include “John has eaten dinner,” and “They have just arrived” (both perfected TUTT = TAST), and “John has eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TUTT = TEVL).

TCOM coincides with TUTT during TAST

As with the above diagram, note that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) for this type of utterance is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TUTT during TAST) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘present perfect progressive’ or ‘present perfect continuous’.   Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured.  It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT.  These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.  In the pressent tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up to the time of utterance, which is always now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  In other words, these constructions read as the verb has a given duration up to now.  Thus, specific time phrases regarding the time of completion may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit duration], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit duration].  Examples include “John has been eating dinner, (perfected TUTT = TAST with implicit duration)” and “It has been raining for three days (perfected TUTT = TAST with explicit duration).

Continue reading Tense, Part III: Past

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tense, Part III: Past

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).  All of the examples that follow are past tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Past Tenses

The past tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs before the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the left of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the past tense’.  There are in fact innumerable past tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points.  The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the past the tense is.  Common classifications of past tenses include the general past (that which occurs before the present with no defined time),  and a variety of past tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate past, recent present, distant past, and far distant past.

TAST precedes TUTT

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John sneezed.) are represented in this diagram. Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TEVL < TUTT below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of assertion precedes the time of utterance.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains past tense however so long as TAST occurs to the left of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST is further in the past than TUTT (to the left of TUTT), the utterance is still past tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at a time before that future TUTT (again, visually to the left of it on the timeline of the utterance).  Because verbs in these types of utterance have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TEVL precedes TUTT

As with TAST < TUTT described above, a common past tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the past is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the past tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may be evaluated as having been true at a time prior to the time of utterance.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John used to drink coffee (generalization)” and “John went to school everyday (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time beginning before TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John painted a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John worked for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John was eating pizza.) in the past. It shows that in the past tenses, the time of utterance occurs after the time of assertion, which for this type of utterance is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action begins at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time (also prior to the utterance), and may end before or may continue beyond the time of utterance.  However in past tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which also occurs prior to the TUTT.

TCOM precedes TUTT

In this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the past (TAST < TUTT and TEVL < TUTT).  These forms are often referred to as ‘the past perfect’ or ‘past perfect simple’. These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time prior to the time of utterance. In other words, the verb is finished before now. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT. Examples of this form include “John had eaten breakfast before lunch, (contextual)” and “They had arrived yesterday (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TAST < TUTT), and “When John lived here, he had eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TEVL < TUTT).

TCOM occurs during or at the end of TAST and precedes TUTT

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration prior to TUTT).  In the past tenses, these are often referred to as ‘past perfect progressive’ or ‘past perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured. It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the past, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration. In the past tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point prior to the time of utterance. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John had been eating dinner when the phone rang, (perfected TAST < TUTT with implicit duration and specific past TCOM)” and “It had been raining for three days.  It’s just cold now.” (perfected TAST < TUTT with explicit duration and contextual past TCOM).

Continue reading Tense, Part IV: Future

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tense, Part IV: Future

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here) and past tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL). All of the examples that follow are future tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Future Tenses

The future tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs after the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the right of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the future tense’. There are in fact innumerable future tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points. The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the future the tense is. Common classifications of future tenses include the general future (that which occurs after the present with no defined time), and a variety of future tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate future, near future, distant future, and far distant future.

TUTT precedes TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (The plumber comes tomorrow.) are represented in this diagram.   Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT < TEVL below).   Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of utterance precedes the time of assertion. In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains future tense however so long as TAST occurs to the right of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the future, so long as TAST is further in the future than TUTT (to the right of TUTT), the utterance is still future tense.  Likewise, if TUTT were in the past, TAST may also be in the past so long as it occurs at a time after that past TUTT (again, visually to the right of it on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT precedes TEVL

As with TUTT < TAST described above, a common future tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the future is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the future tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may not be evaluated as being true until a point in time after the time of utterance. Examples of this in English include such statements as “Our supply of fossil fuels shall only last 50 years(generalization)” and “I am going to go to the gym everyday this year (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time ending after TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (Santa Clause comes tonight.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (The TV will work if you hit it.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John and Mary are going to the cinema later.) in the future.   It shows that in the future tenses, the time of utterance occurs before the time of assertion ends.  For this type of utterance, TAST is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action may begin at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time, but ends at a time beyond the time of utterance.   In future tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which occurs after the TUTT.

TUTT precedes TCOM

In this diagram and the following, the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the future (TUTT < TAST and TUTT < TEVL). These forms are often referred to as ‘the future perfect’ or ‘future perfect simple’.  These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but rather, merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time after the time of utterance. Because TCOM always beyond TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future].’ For this reason, a specific time after TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually beyond TUTT. Examples of this form include “John will have eaten breakfast before he eats lunch, (contextual)” and “I will have finished my project by the end of the week (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TUTT < TAST), and “By the mid 21st Century our supply of fossil fuels will have been exhausted” (perfected TUTT < TEVL).

TUTT precedes TCOM which occurs during or at the end of TAST

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration which terminates after TUTT).  In the future tenses, these are often referred to as ‘future perfect progressive’ or ‘future perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured (an interruption).   It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not TAST but TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the future, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.   In the future tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point beyond the time of utterance. Because TCOM always after TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future],’ where x is the specific future time.  For this reason, a specific time beyond TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the future tenses, either as a specific time phrase (by next week, by tomorrow, etc), or expressed as contextually after TUTT. While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John offered to help this evening, but I will have already been been finished by then, (perfected TUTT < TAST with implicit duration and specific future TCOM)” and “I’ve been told I may be promoted, but I will have been working here for three years by then. (perfected TUTT < TAST with explicit duration and contextual future TCOM).

Continue reading Tense: Conclusion & Review

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sounds of English

Sounds of English provides an introduction to the attributes of the sound system of the language.  It provides information on phonetics, phonology, and orthography.  It also explains how to produce the sounds of English with particular focus on the bio-mechanics of articulation.  Sounds of English provides background knowledge and understanding which will enable the reader to understand the system of spelling and pronunciation of modern English and its historical roots.  The series consists of the following individual posts:

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Articulation
  3. Phonetics
    1. Plosives & Stops
    2. Fricatives
    3. Affricates
    4. Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

    It is recommended that posts be read in the order above.  Additional links will be made active as posts are updated.

Continue reading Part 1: Introduction

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sounds of English: Introduction

This post begins a series on the sounds of English.  First, a brief discussion of phonetics, phonology, and orthography of English:

To begin with, let’s talk terminology. These concepts of phonetics, phonology, and orthography are all interrelated as they involve the sounds of languages and how those sounds are combined and represented in writing. Phonetics (from Greek phone, meaning sound or voice) is simply put, the study of sounds and how they are produced using the vocal organs (mouth, throat, vocal cords, etc). Phonology (from Greek phone, meaning sound, and logos meaning speech — the ‘sounds’ of ‘speech’), on the other hand, is not the study of sounds, but instead of the sound system of particular languages — how sounds are used within a given language, and the rules governing them. Orthography (from Greek orthos meaning correct, and graphein meaning to write — or, the way things are written) deals with the way in which a language uses combinations of letters or symbols to represent the sounds of that language. Another way to look at this is that in English, phonetics describes sounds and how they are produced, phonology establishes a set of rules for how to use those sounds (pronunciation), and orthography provides visual representation of those sounds (spellings that equate to those pronunciations).

English

Within English there are roughly 50 unique sounds(phonetics).  These 50 sounds are represented by 26 letters, alone or in combination with one another (orthography).  The sound system of English consists of about 2/3 consonants, which are either voiced or voiceless depending on which sounds surround them, and 1/3 vowels, which may be long or short depending on where they fall within a word (phonology).

Of these sounds, vowels are fairly well understood and will not be addressed too heavily in this series.  Vowels are also more difficult to discuss definitively because many of them vary by dialect.  Consonants shall be the focus of these discussions on English, and to understand consonants, it is necessary to be familiar with the organs of the vocal tract used to produce them.  This is the focus of the next post.

Consonants

The 30+ consonants in English, consist of the following types:

*Stops are technically the first two parts of a plosive, with the third part being a sudden expelling of air as a release.  Without this ‘explosion‘ of air, a plosive is merely a stop.

The first three involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air. They always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced in mechanically identical ways, but with the only difference between them being the vibration (or lack of vibration) of the vocal cords. The final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow. These sounds are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  Each category is discussed in separate posts later in this series.

Symbols

Each language has its own orthography — its way of expressing sounds with letters or symbols.  These systems vary by language from very similar systems (English, German, Latin) to different but similar systems (Russian, Arabic, Hebrew), to systems that have very little in common with the standard concept of alphabet (Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian hieroglyphs).  Because sounds are present in all languages regardless of orthography, linguists needed a way to represent the same sounds in different languages, no matter in which language they occur.  To represent the full spectrum of sounds without using different orthographic systems, a universal alphabet of sounds has been developed.  The IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet uses a single symbol for each specific sound.  Sometimes these symbols match the letters in English which represent these sounds.  Sometimes they do not.  IPA symbols are used throughout this series, but don’t worry, they shall always be explained and examples of each sound shall be given with normal English spelling.

Continue reading Part 2: Articulation

January 11, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Sounds of English: Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

The first three groups of sounds in English — plosives, fricatives, and affricates are collectively referred to as obstruents (because they obstruct the airway).  Each of these sounds involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air.  Obstruents always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced identically from a mechanical standpoint (which articulators do what), but with the only difference between them being the use of the vocal cords.  In contrast, the final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow.  These sounds are called sonorants.  The word sonorant is a combination of sonorous (having strong resonant sound) and consonant. The name sonorant refers to the fact that these sounds reverberate or echo off the vocal organs with the breath exiting freely through either the nose or mouth (versus obstruents where the air is constricted or obstructed so that it cannot flow freely).   In English, sonorants are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  There are three categories of sonorants — nasals, liquids, and glides.

Nasals

Nasals – a nasal is a consonant produced by redirecting out air through the nose instead of allowing it to escape out of the mouth.  In producing nasals, the throat and mouth act as a resonator, or place where the sound echoes about before exiting the body (in the same way that sound bounces around inside the body of a guitar or violin).  The specific sound qualities of nasals differ depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to stop the airflow and send it to the nose. Types of nasals derive their names from those articulators used.  Nasals occur in pairs of very similar sounds — syllable initial nasals and syllable-final nasals, in which the order of articulation is reversed.  In other words, the steps required to produce the syllable-initial sound are performed in reverse order.  There are three types of nasal in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-initial sounds are represented).

/m/  /m̩/ bilabial nasals

bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing both lips together, fully closing the mouth.  This allows the entire mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the unique full sound. English has two bilabial nasals — /m/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in make, mother and hammer, and syllable-final /m̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in rhythm, mom, and imply.

Production of syllable-initial /m/ is begun with the lips together, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the jaw is dropped which parts the lips and opens the mouth resulting in a release, restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /m̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the jaw is raised and lips brought together to seal the mouth, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended as there is no release.

/n/  // alveolar nasals

An alveolar (from alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth.  This allows the latter portion mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the sound slightly more shallow than that of bilabial nasals.  English has two alveolar nasals — /n/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in need, know and running, and syllable-final /n̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in can, nine, and given.

Production of syllable-initial /n/ is begun with the tongue pressed against the avleolar ridge, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the tongue is lowered, resulting in a release and restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /n̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the tongue is raised and pressed against the alveolar ridge, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended with the tongue still pressed to the alveolar ridge as there is no release.

̯ /  /ŋ / velar nasals

velar (from velar the velum or soft palate) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This allows the only the throat to act as a resonance chamber resulting in a shallow sound which is ended with a reduced velar stop.  English has two velar nasals — /ŋ/ which occurs at the end of a syllable  (syllable-final) as in ring, singer and meaning, and syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ which occurs only at the beginning of certain foreign words such as the Vietnamese surname, Nguyen.

Production of syllable-final /ŋ/ is begun with the the vocal cords vibrating while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the back of the tongue raised and pressed against the velum, sealing the mouth and redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is ended by interrupting the flow of air with the velar stop /g/ (although the /g/ ending /ŋ/ is much weaker than the standalone lengua-velar stop).  Syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ is produced similarly except that production is begun with the tongue pressed against the velum with the initial voicing being wholly nasal.  /ŋ̯/ ends in a /g/ as a velar plosive release.

Liquids

Liquids – a liquid is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence (as with fricatives).  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, with liquids the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by the tongue sending it in different directions within the mouth before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each liquid is affected by the position of the tongue and the way in which the exhaling air is directed around it. There are two primary types of liquids — laterals in which the air is directed toward the sides of the mouth, and non-laterals in which the flow of air is altered but still directed forward.  The individual sounds of each type derive their names from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals, liquids occur in sets of very similar sounds — syllable initial, syllable-final,  and in the case of non-laterals a third form, the trill.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-final sounds are represented).

/ l /  / ɫ /  lateral liquids

lateral (from Latin laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected around the tongue and toward the sides of the mouth before exiting through the lips.  English has two lateral liquids.  the alveolar lateral approximate /l/ in which the tongue is brought near (approximate) the alveolar ridge, forcing the air around the tongue toward the sides (lateral) of the mouth before being allowed to exit.  /l/ occurs in syllable-initial position for example like, melon, and hello.  The syllable-final sound /ɫ/ is referred to as a velarized alveolar lateral approximate, meaning that in addition to the tip of the tongue being brought near  the alveolar ridge, the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum as well.  /ɫ/ occurs in syllable-final position for example full, little, and belfry.  As with nasals, the order of articulation is reversed between syllable-initial and syllable-final laterals.

/ ɹ /  / ɻ /  / r / non-lateral liquids

A nonlateral (from Latin non not and laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, usually flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) before exiting through the lips.  English has three non-lateral liquids, with most dialects having two (rhotic), some having a third (trill), and some having only one (R-dropping).  In syllable-initial / ɹ / as in rabbit, run, and borrow, referred to as a retroflex approximate, the tongue is brought forward the curled backward toward the roof of the mouth (retroflexion).  It comes near (approximate) the roof of the mouth but does not touch it.  The sound is released by lowering the jaw and drawing the tongue back to neutral position.  This is the most common r-sound in English.  Common in most dialects, syllable-final / ɻ / is similar to the syllable initial form.  Depending on the accent of the speaker, this sound may be either an alveolar approximate or a retroflex approximate (some speakers place the tongue closer to the alveolar ridge, others put it in the same position as syllable-initial / ɹ /. The primary difference between syllable-initial and syllable-final forms is that the syllable-final sound begins and ends with the tongue and jaw in the approximate position.  This differs from syllable-initial position which ends with the jaw lowering and the tongue returning resting position.  Compare movement within the mouth between / ɹ / in red and Robert, and / ɻ / in car, better, and urgent. Finally, some dialects possess a third non-lateral approximate /r/ known as a trill (and in lesser form a flap).  These sounds are often referred to as rolled-r.  In producing this sound the tongue is quickly and lightly (and in longer trills, repeatedly) brought into contact with the alveolar ridge.  Otherwise the /r/ is produced in the same manner as syllable-initial / ɹ / or syllable-final / ɻ / depending on position.  The sound /r/ is a primary characteristic of many Scottish accents and is also found in certain Spanish loanwords in North American English including burrito and perro.

Glides

Glides – a glide, like a liquid, is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence.  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, as with liquids, the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by having it glide over the tongue before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each glide is affected by the point at which the tongue is brought closest to the point of articulation.  The primary difference between liquids and glides is that with a liquid, the tip of the tongue is used, whereas with glides, body of the tongue and not the tip is raised.  This provides a wide narrow space over which air passes before exiting the mouth.  There are two primary types of glide in English — labiovelar and palatal.  Each type derives its name from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals and liquids, glides occur in sets of very similar sounds and in Old English there were a variety of these sounds, but Modern English possesses only one of each type in most dialects.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click glide, and select the appropriate sound.

/w/  /?/ labiovelar glide

A labiovelar (from Latin labia lip and velar the velum or soft palate) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by first the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This creates a wide but shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth).  The unique characteristic of labiovelar glides is that production of the sound begins with the pursed together forming a narrow circular opening.  The lips are then relaxed and the jaw dropped, opening the mouth.  This sound, as described is the syllable-initial (in this case more aptly described as the pre-vocalic form because it also appears after other consonants, but always before the vowel within a syllable) form /w/ as in will, why, and quick and flower. The symbol /?/ has been used to reference the possibility of other related sounds.  In Old English there existed at least two w-sounds with words currently spelled wh- representing words which initially began with this other sound.  We unfortunately no longer have record of what this sound was or how it was pronounced, but it is likely similar to /w/.  In Modern English there exists a second version of /w/ which occurs after the vowel (post-vocalic).  This sound is not yet recognized by the IPA and thus does not have a symbol (represented with strikethrough herein).  As with syllable-initial and syllable-final pairs, the post-vocalic /w/ is produced in reverse order of pre-vocalic /w/ with production of the sound beginning with the mouth opened and the lips relaxed, and ending with the lips pursed together forming a narrow round opening.  Contrast the beginning and ending jaw and lip positions of /w/ as in weed or wow with those of /w/ in chew and wow. There is a third w-sound in Modern English which is rare but still present in modern phonology.  That sound /ʍ/ known as a voiceless labiovelar is the version of /w/ in which the vocal cords are not used; compare voiced /w/ in water with voiceless /ʍ/ in the interjection whew! It is likely that the w-sound represented by wh- spellings was originally one of these two latter versions of labiovelar glide.

/j/   palatal glide

palatal (from palate the top of the mouth) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge and forward of the velum (for many speakers, the lateral edges of the midsection of the tongue can be felt pressing up against the molar teeth).  This creates a wide and fairly shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) and then passing between the alveolar ridge and the downward slope of the tongue and finally out of the mouth.  Modern English has only one palatal glide represented by the symbol /j/ as in you, cube, and onion.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Social Networking: a Game Changer for Language Learning?

I recently took a break from research to do a few days of substitute teaching at a local university’s ESL department. One of my duties was to supervise a group of students in their computer writing lab. I personally thought it was a waste of time for both me as a teacher, and for the students who where given a daily scenario about which they were to write a paragraph-long response. I could have understood the merit of such an activity about ten years ago, but obviously the curriculum developers for this program have yet recognize the widespread use of computers among modern university students and their ability to access the internet from their classrooms, dorm rooms, or even mobile phones.

During this exciting hour of supervising the students in the lab, I found one student fidgeting away on Facebook instead of writing his assignment. Now, in dealing with ESL students I have always taken the approach of American higher education — that is, they are students, but they are adults, and thus do not need me to babysit them, give them permission to go to the restroom, or any other such form of coddling (academic or otherwise) afforded school children. Upon noticing my coming around the corner this student quickly shrank down his web browser and attempted to look gainfully employed in his work before my smile yielded a guilty smirk from him. He seemed amazingly surprised when I told him to go ahead, and that I use Facebook all the time.

While talking to him, I observed that he was playing a zoo animal game of some sort (he’s probably 20), and chatting with a few friends. One chatbox was filled with his native Kazakhstani, another was an obvious flirt with some girl somewhere in the world but in English, and the third was a chat with another student across the room (who had managed their chat more covertly apparently) also in English. After a few minutes he finally stumbled out an “and you don’t mind the Facebook?” to which I replied of course not. My response seemed to confuse him even more until I explained that he was using an English-language version of Facebook, playing an interactive game in English, and having two live conversations (again, in English), all at the same time.  He was learning…he just hadn’t realized it!

As the map above shows, Facebook (light green) has become far more than the college connection it once was.  It’s now a worldwide phenomenon and is growing everyday.  And, websites like Facebook and Twitter are taking the place of what a few years ago would have been a slew of webpages and applications.  Even only 5 years ago just about every country had their own unique online chat program.  They were usually available in only one language, and these different systems rarely allowed users to communicate with those using another service.  Yahoo Messenger and to a lesser extent AIM and Microsoft Messenger seem to have weathered the first decades of the internet, most other smaller services have not been so lucky.  Google and their slew of “killer apps” have taken much of the information realm off the desktop and onto the web, bringing with it handheld data access.  Gmail, Google Maps, and the soon to be release Wave are the game changers of information management that neither users nor Microsoft could have ever imagined a decade ago.

Social Networking

Sites like Myspace, industry leader Facebook, and explosively growing newcomer Twitter are a game changer themselves.  More than merely moving email from Outlook to any internet access point (gmail), these Social Networking sites connect people — people who would have perhaps never bothered with such technology, instantly, continuously, easily and in a dynamic manner that makes staying in touch an integral part of the day.  Just this past week, I realized upon being ‘friended’ by a fellow soldier from my army days that I had lost touch with these 500 or so people I spent so much time with.  So, I started a group for my old unit on Facebook.  Within a day there were 13 other veterans in it.  Within two days that number had reached a hundred, and by the end of this week we were numbering somewhere around 250.  When you think about it, that’s amazing!  Of 500 people I have not seen in years, half have managed to find each other again in a matter of days on Facebook.

Facebook you see, is amazing.  There really is no reason not to promote this product here, because like google, it’s moved beyond the scope of being the property of one company and is now yet another piece of online real estate owned by the world (its upcoming IPO aside).  Like Coca-Cola and Disney, Facebook couldn’t close its doors and drop out of existence today even if it wanted to.  Somebody, somewhere, would keep it going.

The internet changed the world 20 years ago when it connected universities and countries and businesses together.  Suddenly free information exchange became an integral ideal of our modern global psyche.  But the internet, while overall free from control, was not free.  In fact, the cost of access in the early days of the internet precluded many from accessing it.  Then, as webpages became more complex and the quantity of data increased, broadband and other high speed (and high cost) connections became to required conduit for connection.  This meant that if you couldn’t afford DSL, if you didn’t have your own connection, computer, etc that you could not connect and that no matter how much information was out there, it wasn’t for you.

Then, along comes Facebook.  It has a simple interface, requires very little bandwidth, can operate on a slow connection, or even on a mobile phone, and allows anyone with an email address (which thanks to gmail, everyone in the world can now have for free), access to everyone else.  Students now have Facebook pages.  Parents have them, companies, organizations, schools, bands, even favourite foods have facebook pages.  The fact is, anyone and everyone can be on Facebook, and they can all connect, communicate, and converse with everyone else.

That, is a game changer for the Language Learning Industry.  Students, all students, anywhere, can now chat with, send messages to, and share information in English (or any other language).  Finally, the biggest challenge to teachers and students has a solution.  That challenge — an overall lack of language exposure, of contact time, or access to content, is no more.  If your students have a computer, access to an internet cafe, or even a smartphone, they have access to the language they are learning.

—————————————————————————–

The game has changed.  Now, the question is how we, as an industry, will change with it.

December 20, 2009 Posted by | Industry Tends, Teacher Resources | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Overall Decline of Full-time Jobs Indicative of Language Training Industry

The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, reported recently that the number of full-time jobs in Germany has seen a drastic decline while

Sabine Zimmermann

part-time positions have been on this rise.   Citing a parliamentary inquiry by the socialist Left party, the paper reports that the number of full-time workers had dropped by 1.4 million, or six percent, between 1999 and 2008, while the number of part-time jobs rose by 1.3 million, or 36 percent.  The article also points out that more workers are also being forced to work two jobs, citing an increase of 1.8 million dual-job workers between 2002 and 2007.   Sabine Zimmermann, an economic expert for the for the party, told the paper that loose government regulations making it easier for businesses to create a part-time based work environment are forcing “millions of people into cheap jobs and poverty.”

While this may be news for many in Germany, a country with great social and worker protections, it’s nothing new for workers in countries like the United States which has seen a massive shift from full-time to part-time employment in recent decades.  While the overall global economy may be a bit late to the game on this trend, within the language training industry full-time jobs are now exceedingly rare.

10 years ago it was quite normal for teaching positions, including ESL — teaching English in non-English speaking locales, to be full-time and sometimes even salaried positions.  It should be noted that teaching English has never been a high-paying career.  But at one time, a teacher could work a reasonable number of hours each week and live a comfortable living in the country in which they were working.  Starting in about 2000, many teaching posts began to transition from salaried jobs to freelance positions in which the teacher is classified as a contractor to the school or company in which they teach.

This move from full-time to freelance work has made for major changes in the industry.  Primarily it has shifted the cost of doing business from the language school and onto the teacher.  It allows employers to avoid paying taxes, pensions, health insurance, and other benefits and expenses required by governments of workers.  This of course greatly changes the financial formula for teaching.  Originally many schools offered a higher upfront wage to freelancers to cover some of the added expenses incurred over hourly or salaried teachers.  My first ESL post was in Poland and it was freelance.  At the time I was making 32 Polish Zloty per hour which came with a guarantee of 25 hours per week.  So at 3200 zloty (at the time around USD 1500), I was able to live quite well in Poland.  Over the years I’ve followed teaching jobs in Poland, and today those same jobs (actually even that SAME job) now pays freelancers the equivalent of around $600 per month, even though the cost of living in Poland is now around three times what it was when I taught there.  This does not bode well for teachers.

Germany has by far been the leader in systematically lowering pay among ESL instructors.  Strange, as it’s by far the largest ESL market in Europe and equally odd since German students pay more for their English lessons than anyone else, but this is the case.  The German government loves to regulate anything and everything — especially anything that has an effect on their citizens.  Unfortunately though Germany has shown a bit of a dark side when it comes to language schools.  Language schools almost universally hire foreigners.  Foreigners are not Germans.  And unfortunately for a country which works so hard to protect it’s workers, the German authorities have shown no interest whatsoever in protecting the rights and working conditions of foreign English teachers.

Freelancers, especially non-EU freelancers, pay among the highest income tax rates in all of Germany.  They also are responsible for paying mandatory contributions into the German pension system, mandatory social insurance contributions (even though if they lose their jobs, they are not allowed to receive unemployment benefits), and pay for mandatory German health insurance which can easily cost 3-500 euros for a single person.  In this mix is an added problem, that being that freelance English teachers are among the lowest paid workers in all of Germany.  In Berlin pay for freelance teachers is around €12/ hour.  In Nuremberg this rate hovers between €16-22 depending on experience.  Munich comes in tops with pay in the 20’s being the norm.  Of course, this pay is only based on classroom time.  So while a teacher in Berlin would receive €24 for a two-hour class, he would not receive anything for the hour or travel to and from the location of the client, nor any pay for the hour of preparation of materials for that class, nor for the time spent grading assignments, etc.

Overall it makes for a system where a skilled, in-demand worker may work 50 hours a week yet only be paid for 20.  That 20 hours will be paid at a rate lower than nationals of that country would make, and of that pay, a large portion of it (often 60-75%) is to be paid back to the government for the privilege of working.

As mentioned above, this does not bode well for teachers.  But what school owners and governments fail to recognize is that it doesn’t bode well for them either.  Systems such as these create a class of impoverish workers among people with high-demand skills.  It puts the very people whom are needed to provide German (and Polish, and French, and Chinese) workers with the invaluable skill of learning the international language of science and business in a very awkward situation.  Their willingness to come to these countries, to work long hours, to spend their days educating the very workers the country needs, are rewarded with poverty.

Putting teachers in such a position is a sad affair for these countries and in the end results in a lower quality of education for its workers.  Teachers with skills shall inevitably be forced to look to other markets for work which rewards their skills with a living wage, while countries like Germany and Poland will be left with only the lowest quality of teacher.

Germany led the ESL industry down this path from reasonably paid salaried positions, to full-time hourly employment, to part-time employment, and finally to freelancers.  They have done this to save money.  Now they need to reverse the policies that have made these deplorable working conditions the norm.  To save their industry, and to protect their citizens from unscrupulous school owners increasing profits by providing low-quality courses from underpaid teachers, they need to step in, and regulate the Language Training Industry just as they would any other industry.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Industry Tends | , , , , , , | 1 Comment